A Little Bit of Hummel

I came across this bit of music a while ago. It appears in the very first (pilot) episode of the detective series Lewis. You can find it at the start of this clip and later on about 6.30 into the clip. It’s the central Andante movement of a Trumpet Concerto by Johann Nepomuk Hummel, of whom I knew nothing at all before hearing his name on this programme.

It turns out that Hummel is actually a leading figure in the history of classical music and in his own lifetime was every bit as famous as Haydn and Beethoven; he was a pallbearer at the latter’s funeral, in fact. He died in 1837 with his musical reputation apparently secure, but was quickly forgotten. Always a bit overshadowed by Mozart, when the romantic era dawned Hummel’s classical style was considered extremely old-fashioned. It’s just another illustration of a fact that applies not only in music but also in many different spheres of activity: popularity in one’s own lifetime is by no means certain to turn into renown thereafter…

I don’t usually like the sound of the classical trumpet that much- I prefer the broader and more expressive way the instrument is used in Jazz, whether it’s the brassy brilliance of Dizzy Gillespie or the moody melancholia of Miles Davis – but this piece is really lovely, especially when played with beautiful clarity by Norwegian trumpeter Tine Thing Helseth.

12 Responses to “A Little Bit of Hummel”

  1. Bryn Jones Says:

    The Hummel Trumpet Concerto is an excellent piece of music, though not one that is performed in concert halls that often, unfortunately. It stands alongside the Haydn Trumpet Concerto, written several years earlier, for quality and instant appeal.

    The Trumpet Concerto is certainly Hummel’s best known work. I’m familiar with very little else and it would be nice to get to know more of his music to judge whether it is really inferior to that of his more famous contemporaries, and, if so, by how much. His contemporaries include the elderly Haydn, Schubert and the genius of geniuses, Beethoven. So Hummel faced extremely fierce competition in terms of quality.

    • telescoper Says:

      Incidentally, in the clip I linked to, Inspector Lewis stumbles across this piece being played as part of a competition for the “Endeavour” Award, funded by an anonymous bequest although Lewis clearly recognizes the Christian name of his former boss, the late Inspector Morse, the creator of whom is a regular competitor in the Azed Crossword competition that features in my previous post.

    • telescoper Says:

      PS. I’m told in private that some of Hummel’s keyboard works are well-known. Being ignorant, however, I’ve never heard them..

    • Bryn Jones Says:

      I wouldn’t say myself that Hummel’s keyboard works are well known. They are occasionally performed, but fairly rarely. I’ve heard very little.

      It would be nice to hear more works by Hummel to assess quite how good they are. Is the Trumpet Concerto the only front rank piece of music by Hummel, or are there others of similar quality that have been overlooked?

  2. Why not try his First Piano Septet op.74? Capricorn recorded it alongside no.2 ‘Militaire’ on Hyperion in the early 1990s. The Melos Ensemble also recorded it (along with the Piano Quintet op.87) on LP, but that was donkey’s years ago. It seems that this version is now available as a Polygram ‘London’ import. It’s great fun and has a nice swagger about it.

    • Bryn Jones Says:

      These recommendations are helpful. I’ll have to look out for them and make more of an effort to look out for Hummel’s music on the radio.

      I see that there is a
      list of Hummel’s compositions on Wikipedia
      . That lists many pieces of chamber music. There are some orchestral compositions, including concertos, but no original symphonies as far as I can make out. Perhaps the lack of symphonies has contributed to Hummel’s relatively low profile today?

  3. In the meantime, here’s a link to Liszt’s solo transcription of the first movement. The second movement is also available from the same source. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6C2hJ07cC7Y

  4. And at the risk of over-pushing the piece, here’s a link provided by one J. Yardley to a period-instrument version of the two septets. http://open.spotify.com/track/2qrYxc7uTFUfaRUQTfSQg8

  5. “Hummel” is German for “bumblebee”.

  6. […] have posted this piece of music before but listening to it today something struck me that hadn’t done so before, namely that parts […]

  7. Barrie Grant Says:

    Beautifully played. Sounds fantastic.

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